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Building Strong Brand Tribes (Inspired by Presenters at SXSW)

Jen Herbert, Senior Strategist at AMP

 

I haven’t been to Disney World since I was eight, but this year I was fortunate enough to go to South by Southwest (SXSW), which I have now dubbed “Disneyland for Adults.” When I wasn’t busy presenting with the rest of the fierce AMP team for our participation in   YouTube’s SXSW Creative Agency Challenge, or being distracted by the puppies at the Amazon Prime activation and the endless CBD-related samples at the wellness expo, I promise I was putting on my Brand Strategist hat and attending a wealth of panels and keynotes with my colleague and SXSW partner-in-crime, Andie, AMP’s Director of Business Development.  


The best part was listening to speakers with such diversity in perspective, and realizing that all of these accomplished individuals offered a unique method for building and strengthening a brand tribe: through social impact, play, internal creativity, and centering the customer experience around a singular emotional benefit.


While we’ve been hearing about “brand community” for some time, “brand tribe” is a relatively new term in Marketing, yet it’s important because it denotes a much deeper relationship between brand and customer. While a member of a brand community need only participate on occasion, perhaps via a purchase or a ‘like’ on Instagram, a member of a brand tribe wholly believes in that brand. Connection with that brand becomes an outward expression of one’s identity to the rest of the world. Brand tribe members wear merchandise, create user-generated Social content, join loyalty programs, go on auto-pay plans, and, perhaps most importantly, recruit others to join the tribe too.


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Building A Brand Tribe Through Social Impact


Study after study has proven that in 2019, consumers want to back brands that share their values and create a positive change in the world. That being said, brands can’t talk at customers about the good they’re doing; they need to work with their customers to spread good together. As panelists during How Brands Can Engage the Social Impact Generation outlined, social impact must be participatory.


One panelist, Viveka Hulyalkar, Co-Founder and CEO of Beam, has developed a customer engagement platform that partners with a given company, say, a fast-casual salad stand. The salad company decides how much they’re willing to donate per purchase and a cause they would like to support, such as third world female education. Customers can then log into the app to track how each salad purchased gets them closer to buying a textbook for a young girl. Another panelist, Helena Hounsel, Social Media Manager at Brandless, offered an example of how a brand tribe of activists can be built on Social: “Rather than spending International Women’s Day showing how your company volunteered at a women’s nonprofit, why don’t you instead ask your audience which women are inspiring them this holiday?”


By rallying around causes that your brand and your customers share a passion for, and then providing a platform for your customers to become ambassadors for the cause, your social impact becomes experiential and your brand tribe becomes united around a higher purpose.


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Building A Brand Tribe Through Play


All work and no play makes a brand’s tribe very dull. IBM’s Dr. John Cohn reminded us of that in his session, Prioritizing Play in an Automated Age, where he outlined how making room to play can smooth the bumps during life’s tough disruptions. During the talk, Dr. Cohn told us about play projects of his, like an 18-foot tall animatronic pumpkin man as well as an art car built for Burning Man. He recounted how droves of people, some of whom then became his fellow creators, were drawn to his projects while they were being built and shown off to the world.


In other words, play can help you find your brand tribe, in a very “if you build it, they will come” kind of way. Through your bravery to look silly and/or fail, and your willingness to surrender to wonder for no reason other through indulging curiosity, your brand will show its authenticity and customers who identity a similar raison d’être in themselves will be drawn to you naturally.


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Sure, you might be saying, A wacky scientist from IBM can have a little fun, but how can brands? Let’s not forget this Southwest flight attendant who transformed the safety demonstration into a burlesque performance, or KFC apologizing for running out of chicken with an on-the-nose newspaper ad featuring its carton respelt as FCK.


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Building A Brand Tribe Through Internal Creativity


It is often hard for brands to prioritize looking inward, to their own company culture and values, when there are always so many externally-focused tasks to complete. The beloved bakery Milk Bar, however, is proof that the spirit of brands that cultivate internal creativity will always shine through and be felt externally by customers.

 

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During Innovation in Pursuit of the Unexpected, Christina Tosi, cookie-baker extraordinaire and company founder, along with her agency partner, Michael Greenblatt of REDSCOUT, reflected on how the Milk Bar brand toolkit is a toolkit in the truest sense of the word. Through the codified system of the color palette, off-kilter logo placement, branded pastry box tape, and decorative stamps, Milk Bar employees at locations around the country are encouraged to leverage their creativity to use the tools as they’d wish. For example, the Milk Bar team suggested designing the delivery truck to look like it was covered in the Milk Bar tape; others use the logo and colors to bedazzle denim jackets and beanies that they wear to work.


This DIY spirit has created a tribe of Milk Bar devotees. Because employees are welcome to live and breathe the brand uniquely, customers also view the brand as a living and breathing thing to interact with–for example by holding up a cup of “cereal milk” soft serve to a pretty background for the perfect Instagram, or by decorating their laptop in Milk Bar stickers.


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Building A Brand Tribe Through Creation of “Brand Feeling”


Lastly, it’s easy to get bogged down in lifting brand metrics. Yet during Following the Feeling: Creating Brand Value, Columbia University lecturer Kai Wright argues that the most important brand metric is how you make others feel. After all, Wright noted, humans make 95% of our daily decisions on “auto-pilot,” rather than weighing pros and cons in order to choose the best and most rational choice, with emotions influencing nearly 70% of our decision-making.


He cited brands who have expertly structured their brand “LAVEC”– lexicon, audio cues, visual stimuli, experience, and culture– around a singular brand feeling. Take Disney, whose feeling of “happiness” is supported by audio cues like fireworks and visual stimuli like wearing the iconic mouse ears, or Gatorade, whose feeling of “endurance” is brought to life through the lexicon of calling its products “fuel.”


If a customer can rely on your brand not just for great products or services, but for a guaranteed emotional experience, your brand tribe is then powered by the strength of shared human connection.

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How To Buy a Sweater in NYC: What four radically new shopping experiences tell us about the retail evolution

Store closures. Bankruptcy filings. A mall turned ghost town. For nearly a decade, we have been told that brick-and-mortar retail is dying, and have seen the effects with our own eyes.  Yet at the same time, digitally native brands are venturing offline. New store concepts are popping up with fresh takes on the in-store experience. Physical retail is in fact making many valiant and creative attempts to adapt rather than succumb to inevitable death.  And while industry coverage highlights how businesses hope to profit from their ingenious new take on retail, as I read article after article I was left wondering: what about the customer?  So, I set out on an ambitious shopping experiment to test the most innovative ways you can buy a sweater in New York City. What does this innovation feel like for me, in a world where so much of my shopping behavior has moved online? Turns out, my exposure to brands on social media made it almost impossible to aimlessly browse without carrying preconceived notions. With browsing and discovery happening online, brick-and-mortar stores are no longer about “shopping” in the traditional sense – they're about a focused hunt for a specific product or a memorable experience. Naadam: The Fast Transaction Store Naadam has two stores in NYC: “The $75 Sweater Store,” which only sells the brand’s iconic $75 cashmere sweater (or, as Glossy calls it, a “hero product”), and another store ten blocks away which offers the larger collection of apparel. I visited both stores, and purchased from the former.  At “The $75 Sweater Store,” my shopping experience was efficient: the store was the size of a hallway, there were three clothing racks with the $75 sweaters hanging, one dressing room, and one largely-silent sales associate. While I wouldn’t call it “shopping”  – there was no thrill of combing through racks – the transaction was refreshing in its own way. As I had already been exposed to the sweater online, I knew what I wanted and my time in-store simply felt like I was running an errand to pick it up – confirming through touch and a quick try-on that what I had seen online was indeed what I wanted to purchase. For this reason, it makes sense why the store experiences are separated – one drives the quick and easy sale, while the other promotes discovery and a deeper relationship with the brand. Top: “These are seventy five dollar cashmere sweaters” - the neon sign at Naadam’s “The $75 Sweater Store” ensures their store concept is crystal clear; Bottom: My ($75) sweater purchase, wrapped in paper printed with the care instructions.   Modcloth: The Stylist Store  Modcloth’s physical locations are branded as “FitShops,” where customers work with stylists to pick and try on outfits and then have them shipped home. From an operational perspective, this is ideal – because associates don’t need to house and manage inventory, the brand can rent much smaller retail locations, and associates can exercise their talents in styling customers rather than sorting product.  While I was there, I witnessed a stylist speaking with a woman who wasn’t sure if an item she was trying on was flattering. The stylist was holding a tablet open to modcloth.com, and was showing the shopper other similar styles to consider. This level of one-on-one attention is working – Modcloth customers using stylists are currently converting at 90%, compared to around 25% for those who don’t. While I myself didn’t end purchasing anything, my willingness to visit again definitely increased – Modcloth’s ability to seamlessly weave in-person interaction with the benefits of ecommerce felt like a value-add that could never be achieved by simply shopping from my couch. Prompts throughout the dressing room encourage shoppers to book appointments with stylists, from providing the booking URL as a sticker on the mirror (Top) to coupon cards offering 15% off all purchases when you book (Bottom).  Lingua Franca: The Courageous Customizer The hand-stitched cashmere sweater company Lingua Franca has found their niche in stitching custom phrases, especially liberal political statements (e.g. “Bad hombre” and “Blessed be the refugees”). I was visiting the store to make a statement of my own, planning on designing a sweater with one of the brand’s more popular phrases, “I miss Barack,” in the colors of my choosing. Before arrival, I was unsure whether the store was built with customization in mind, but I was pleasantly surprised to experience intense collaboration and interactivity. It was a true team process as the associate pulled sizes for me to try and brought photos up online to help me envision various sweater color / thread color combinations.  Lingua Franca is so clear about who they are and what they believe in as a brand. And due to a made-to-order business model with sweaters as the hero, the store, like Naadam’s “The $75 Sweater Store” or Modcloth, is fairly easy to operate. They can instead turn the space into a little jewel box for declaring their brand identity and building relationships. As a customer, I felt like I was joining a tribe of like-minded individuals while also enjoying the satisfaction of a personalized piece. Top: A corner of the Lingua Franca store; Middle: thread is laid out and customers are provided with a card of popular phrases to help with customization; Bottom: My sweater arrives at home.  Showfields: An Experience to Instagram  I had to conclude my sweater excursion with a trip to Showfields, after reading an article declaring it “the department store of the future.” Showfields describes themselves as “the most interesting store in the world” and “an immersive theater experience that bridges art and retail.” To be honest, the mystical vagueness of it all made me a little nervous. While there, I walked through various conjoining spaces, each temporarily owned by a brand and beautifully decorated with the help of Showfields to tell that brand’s story – Boodles Gin and Book of the Month created a library lounge area, and DTC toilet paper brand No. 2 took over the public restrooms (naturally.) It all felt a bit awkward and confusing. My mind raced with questions such as, Am I allowed to touch everything? (Yes.) Where do I try stuff on? (The one fitting room, disguised to look like a shipping container.) How do you pay? (Approach one of the associates/docents who check you out on the spot using a mobile device.) It looks like I’m the only one actually shopping – how in the world does Showfields make money? (Brands pay $4000+/month for the exposure, without much expectation of actually selling anything.)   I eye-rolled a lot, stopped in a few corners to take photos, and seemed to be the only person around who bought anything – in a space that was seemingly built for Instagramming, I ultimately felt uncomfortable making my purchase. Top: One of the brand’s spaces, produced to look like a bodega; Middle: One of the many corners seemingly designed for Instagramming; Bottom: My purchase, a sweater with a print of two romantic robots In the words of President Lincoln, four stores and several sweaters ago…  If online shopping has evolved in-person shopping into a focused hunt for a specific product or memorable experience, three things need to happen:  The brick and mortar concept must be unique and play a clear role or provide specific value to shoppers that they couldn’t get at home. Brands must then use their digital marketing channels to set clear expectations of what the store experience will be like, build excitement for that experience, and drive foot traffic.  Ecommerce, digital marketing, and physical retail must continue working together to learn and optimize towards the most positive customer experience possible. Ultimately, retailers need to ensure that their brand personality shines through their store concept. By thinking of the space as a magnet that will attract and build relationships with “on brand” consumers, it expands the definition of a “store” from a place that encourages a sale, into a marketing platform that ultimately helps visitors align themselves with a brand and its values as they search for, Snapchat, and shop the space.

Google Search Trends Insights December 2019 - AMP Agency

In our continuing series of examining Google Search Trends to gain insights into the top keywords queried in the USA, we present our findings for December 2019. Every day, we capture the top three keyword phrases in terms of search volume as reported by Google Trends (US Only). Each term has an estimated query volume attached to it, which we also record. The number scale tops out at 10,000,000+ with a lower limit of 200,000+. After the conclusion of the month, we look at the phrases we collected along with their volumes to get an understanding of what drove queries for the month. ‘Tis The Season For Holidays and Impeachment December had a large number of queries that reached the 10+ million mark. The majority of the phrases were relevant to the time of year, particularly about the end of the year. Here are the top queried phrases of the month: Impeachment - Dec. 18th - 10 Million+ queries Winter season - Dec. 21st - 10 Million+ queries Holiday season - Dec. 23rd - 10 Million+ queries New Year’s Eve - Dec. 30th  - 10 Million+ queries New Year’s Day  Dec. 31st - 10 Million+ queries With the exception of the query about the president’s impeachment, all of the phrases above were initiated by Google Doodles. It’s interesting to think about the possibilities for a brand or company to get into the search results that these Doodles trigger. Since these are Doodles that Google produces every year, is there a strategy to get a piece of content that’s relevant to the season into Google’s news carousel? The other 10 million+ queries were as follows:  Camille Claudel - Dec. 7th - 10 Million+ queries Juice WRLD - Dec. 8th - 10 Million+ queries Clemson vs Ohio State - Dec. 27th - 10 Million+ queries Like the majority of the aforementioned queries, Camille Claudel was the subject of a Google Doodle. As for the other two queries, both were driven by current events. The passing of American rapper, singer, and songwriter Juice WRLD drove users to query his name, while the college football game between Clemson and Ohio State became a top keyword phrase in December. The Search for the Perfect Gift Continues Shopping around the holidays drove queries in December. Like we saw in November 2019, brand names became keywords for people looking for deals. Since Thanksgiving happened late this year, Cyber Monday occurred on the first Monday of December. Take a look at some of the phrases that made the top 3 queries: Cyber Monday 2019 - Dec. 1st - 5 Million+ queries Target Cyber Monday - Dec. 1st - 1 Million+ queries Best Cyber Monday deals - Dec. 2nd - 500,000+ queries Santa Tracker - Dec. 23rd - 5 Million+ queries Dollar General - Dec. 24th - 1 Million+ queries McDonald’s - Dec. 24th - 1 Million+ queries  Walmart hours Christmas eve - Dec. 24th - 500,000+ queries Bath and Body Works  - Dec. 26th - 500,000+ queries At the beginning of the month, Cyber Monday drove people to search for gifts that had a discounted price or special incentive. As the days neared Christmas, people's desire to know where Santa was in the world inspired searches for an online tracker of his every move. Meanwhile, a good portion of the population could be seen searching for a quick bite to eat on Christmas Eve as they worked up an appetite shopping for last minute gifts and stocking stuffers. Sports Related Phrases Still Rule Of the 93 phrases we collected in December, 45 of them were sports-related. The subject of Gridiron Football – both collegiate and professional – makes up most of the queries, but it’s worth noting that queries related to the other football also made the list in December:  Monterrey vs Liverpool - Dec. 17th - 500,000+ queries Premier League - Dec. 26th - 500,000+ queries It’s important to note that December wasn’t the only month where European soccer terms broke through to the top 3 queries of the day as reported by Google Trends for the US. We still believe these types of queries are driven by people who are checking the score of the game, but it’s interesting to see that the interest is high for a sport being played across the ocean. Other Top Queries By Category As we record queries, we categorize them by subject matter. Here are some of the top phrases by category: Entertainment December saw Star Wars at the center of the searchable universe with both the film and the TV series making up some of the top phrases in Entertainment: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - Dec. 17th - 1 Million+ queries Mandalorian - Dec. 27th - 1 Million+ queries  Technology One December 4th, Spotify wrapped up the year –and the entire decade, for that matter – by launching data related to each user’s listening habits over the past ten years. Spotify Wrapped - Dec. 4th - 2 Million+ queries We thought the timing of this release was strategic since there is so much attention given to shopping and the holidays. For Spotify to roll out their Wrapped insights after Cyber Monday and before New Year’s, they were able to maximize the attention they got for it. Politics With the exception of Kamala Harris dropping out of the presidential race, the rest of the political queries in December were related to the impeachment hearings, including the phrase “impeachment” that happened two weeks before the vote occurred: Kamala Harris - Dec. 3rd - 1 Million+ queries  Jonathan Turley - Dec. 4th - 1 Million+ queries Nancy Pelosi  - Dec. 4th - 200,000+ queries Impeachment  - Dec. 4th - 500,000+ queries Gaming The subject of gaming gets queries and we have seen them show up as popular queries from month to month. Generally, a new game release triggers the query. This past month in particular, the Game Awards occurred and won themselves two spots of the top 3 queries on December 12th. Xbox Series X - Dec. 12th - 1 Million+ queries Game Awards 2019 - Dec. 12th - 500,000+ queries As we wrap up another year and kickstart a brand new decade, we look forward to seeing what the trending queries are for the future. See you next month!

“Through Their Eyes” Digital Ethnography Series: Multicultural Thanksgiving

In 2019, the Strategy team at AMP went on a mission to better understand marketers’ most sought-after consumer segments. Each week, individuals from these segments took over @AMP_Agency Instagram stories to give us a peek into their world as part of our digital ethnography series, “Through Their Eyes.” To wrap up the series, we took the opportunity to celebrate different cultures, and saw Thanksgiving from the perspective of Alicia’s family, from Guangzhou in China, Dana’s family, from Calabria in Italy, and Andronaelle’s family, from Les Cayes in Haiti.  If you surveyed all Americans and asked them what the most American holiday was, our bets are on either the Fourth of July – naturally, it’s our birthday – or Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a celebration of the most American Americanisms: apple pie, lively family debates, and the NFL. Yet, we must not forget that our country is projected to be “minority white” within the next 25 years, and the very definition of what it means to be American looks quite different depending on who you ask. So, on the day that maxes out on all things America, we decided to celebrate what might be the most American Americanism of all: our diversity and our rich, beautiful variety of cultural traditions. We encountered mouth-watering food. While all of our participants still made a turkey, there was also incredible, delectable variety in the accompanying dishes served. Alicia’s family ate prime rib, grilled octopus, and steamed shrimp. Dana’s family had salad with homemade vinegar and drank homemade wine, and Andronaelle’s family had mac and cheese as well as traditional black rice. Top to  Bottom: Alicia’s mom made comforting doughy rice ball soup; Andronaelle’s auntie utilized traditional Haitian seasonings in all dishes; Dana’s family tossed salad in homemade vinegar. Matriarchs were celebrated. All of our participants took time in their Instagram Stories to honor the matriarch of the family. Alicia’s family made sure to cook their grandmother’s favorite dish, pork knuckle and lotus stew. Andronaelle wrote about her Auntie Marie, “the matriarch and the best cook in the family,” and many of Dana’s Stories featured her nonna, who kept busy peeling potatoes, greeting guests, and playing games. (We’ll get to the games below!)  Top to  Bottom: Alicia’s family makes sure to cook their grandmother’s favorite dish; Everyone gathers at Auntie Marie’s immediately after breakfast; Nonna and Dana share a selfie Fun was had. A lot of fun.  Most of all, what we could truly sense through these Stories was the sheer fun, and dare we say craziness, that ensues when large families reunite for Thanksgiving. For Alicia’s family, even the morning food prep is made fun, as they make a tradition out of picking up dim sum takeout from Chinatown each Thanksgiving morning. Andronaelle’s family took a big group photo and had the little ones pose for pictures. Dana even convinced two nonnas at the party to play a round of beer pong – the nonnas surprised with a sneaky bounce play that forced their opponents to take two cups off the table. Top to Bottom: The fun starts early at Alicia’s over morning dim sum takeout; Thanksgiving is a time to compare how much the cousins have grown at Andronaelle’s; Two Italian nonnas were shockingly skilled at beer pong And so our “Through Their Eyes” series concludes.  This year, we started our Instagram ethnography series with Gen Z college students, moved into soon-to-be-wed millennials, and then millennial moms. Each time, walking in a segment’s shoes for the day revealed surprising insight that’s useful to brands: Gen Z kept themselves dizzyingly busy and are motivated by hustle, soon-to-be-wed’s use food as a vehicle for expressing and celebrating the love they have for their partners, and millennial moms have much more of a sense of humor than marketers would lead you to believe.  Yet it’s perhaps fitting that we ended with multicultural Thanksgiving celebrations, and the reminder that despite how different we ensured our participants were – Chinese, Italian, and Haitian – what came through most strongly were the values that we all share, despite “segment” or ethnicity or age or what have you: an obsession with food, a respect for our elders, and the chaotic fun that ensues when we’re all together.